I was planning to write this post a week ago, when the experience was fresh and I still heady from my trip abroad. Rather than enlist excuses, I would do best to simply quote Mr. Burns here, who once waxed, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”
But here it is in all it’s belated glory. In London, I spent most of my daytime hours tucked inside our office there in the Bloomsbury district. I was pleasantly surprised by the food at Spaghetti House, whose name did not inspire much pre-meal anticipation. But my spaghetti puttanesca was downright dandy, and some of the entrees and other pastas my coworkers ordered looked very appetizing as well. For another lunch, I had a chicken salad sandwich that was anything but a salad, with crunchy striations of bacon running throughout it; I’m pretty certain it was equal parts bacon and chicken. Dinner at Acornhouse, a “social enterprise” restaurant near King’s Cross, ended up being a mixed bag of uninspired salads and solid entrees. What I really want to talk about, though, is Borough Market.
On the night of my arrival (a quick train ride from London), A took me to the weekly formal dinner at her college hall. It was my first time stepping into the kind of student dining hall that the Harry Potter movies have immortalized, at least in my mind. We were served a three-course meal with wine (risotto, lamb, dessert) and a cheese plate as well, and it turns out the formal dinner is a tradition I heartily approve of 🙂
The next day, A and I enjoyed an afternoon meal in the shadows of the Bodleian:
More pics after the jump!
Last week, I went to England to unwind. For once, food was not my top travel priority. I got away to spend time exploring a new place and catching up with good friends. Of course, eating was part of that, but I explicitly resisted the urge to plan my vacation around food. In London, O proved to be a kick ass tour guide and his wonderful parents were ever the warm, welcoming hosts. Along with S for constant entertainment, I had a lovely time in the city, dipping into the museums (why are museums not free in the States?), picnicking in the park, taking walks along the Thames and playing the role of a proper tourist.
The one restaurant we did scope out and plan for in advance was River Cafe. Along with A, we made the trek on a balmy afternoon for a late lunch, and as soon as we got there, it became evident how the restaurant managed to stay bustling despite its distance from the tube. The parking lot was loaded with shiny black Mercedes, along with a beemer or two. We four humble lads clearly did not get the memo, and even if we had, we would not have been able to comply.
Bread basket–look at that beauteous crumb structure!
Continue reading “England, part I”…
Back in college, I had a strong affinity for the pad thai from Thai Garden, one of a whopping four restaurants along “Williamstown’s Times Square” (no kidding, that’s how it was advertised to me), the bustling thoroughfare that is Spring Street. I hardly ever eat fried noodles when I’m at home, but somehow it resonates in my mind as comfort food, along with stuff like meatloaf and mash, blueberry pie, ice cream, American-Chinese food, and ramen. Whether or not the pad thai was authentic was irrelevant, as my fondness for it had more to do with the circumstances under which I ate it (at birthday dinners, during study breaks, and on sunny spring days) than how it actually tasted. In any case, I was excited to see how it would fare against the real deal in Thailand. Overall, I found the versions we had in Thailand to be more boldly flavored with a lower noodle-to-other stuff ratio. There was one time I had pad thai with an unusually strong essence of ketchup, and I got the sense that cooks ad lib quite a bit when making this dish, which I found ironic: it’s practically a national dish but you’d be hard-pressed to find it made the same way twice. I also noshed on pad see ew a few times throughout the course of my trip, as my companion and I usually ordered one of the two noodles to accompany most of our meals. Some hits and misses, but at the very least, you can count on pad see ew to give your lips a nice post-meal sheen 😛
Shrimp pad thai:
Vegetarian pad see ew:
Shrimp pad thai:
Pork pad see ew (my uber-caramelized product at the cooking school):
For the past few days, my mother and I have been laboriously sifting through a junk collection that represents twenty-plus years of sheer laziness or hard work, depending on how you look at it. Over the years, my parents have accumulated a mindboggling array of useless knick knacks, and not only refuse to jettison their own odds and ends but often feel compelled to appropriate other people’s trash as well, whether through friend-ly donations (mom) or garage sales (dad). It’s not even like these secondhand items are elevated to first-class treasures in our household: they almost always take a seat on some dusty storage shelf, falling victim to my parents’ “hoard, then ignore” purchasing mentality. It’s actually very humorous to observe, but when it comes time for this bounty of trash to be sorted and reduced, it is a huge pain in my ass. It’s stressful and time-consuming, but most disheartening is that I’ve had to survive on a mix and match diet of rotisserie chicken, pistachios, and blueberries. After half a dozen consecutive meals, eating has become just a bit (gasp) tedious. Not to mention one comes dangerously close to having nothing to food blog about. Luckily for me, I still have some unpublished goodies from Thailand in my backpocket.
The chef’s chicken with cashew nuts stir-fry demo at the cooking school in Chiang Mai:
My product, complete with a slightly woosy scallion garnish:
Craving of the moment: oatmeal with mushy bananas.
Salads in Thailand do not just provide the requisite greens to a meal: they provide a sharp counterpoint to heavier dishes like phad thai and curry. The generous dose of fish sauce that goes into them and the use of potent raw ingredients assures that flavorwise, the salads hold their own.
Steamed eggplant salad garnished with red onions, garlic, pork threads, and boiled eggs.
Khao soi is a popular soup noodle dish in Northern Thailand. It’s great for a quick bite during the day but serves as a particularly nice savory alternative for breakfast, if the mood strikes you so. The one I had in Chiang Mai was crowned with fried dough sticks reminiscent of the ones complimentarily served at casual American-Chinese food joints. Below these crispy crawlers were egg noodles, bean sprouts, tofu, and tung choy in a light but flavorful and fragrant, curry-like broth. Mild enough so that you don’t break a sweat first thing in the morning but with enough of a kick so that you get up from your stool with your eyes a bit more open, that much more prepared to take on the day.
Savory baby crepes.
Pickled and tie-dyed something or others.
Deep-fried fish cakes — we actually tried these and they were addicting, served with thinly sliced cukes and sweet chili sauce.
After arriving in Thailand in the middle of night and sleeping until lunchtime, L and I took our hotel up on its recommendation and headed to a nearby restaurant off Silom Road called Ta Ping Ling. The tastefully-decorated interior was matched by the quality of the meal, which we both later agreed was the best of the trip. We ordered a steamed eggplant salad, green curry with fish, and pad thai. The eggplant salad was tart and sweet — fish sauce, red onions, garlic, and chilis provided bite against the mellowness of the eggplant, with a combination of dried pork shreds and minced pork adding a touch of meatiness to the mixture. Twas wonderfully light and flavorful and really makes me wonder how in America a plate of tasteless iceberg lettuce dressed with a neon-colored, gel-like substance passes for a salad.